Whats a sustainable circular business model? A license plate!

By the end of last year my brother (16 yeras old) asked me, whether I could support his newly formed school company with 10 Euros. Those 10 Euros symbolized a small share in the company and I joyfully said yes and was excited to become shareholder for the first time in my life. I asked him ” What excactly am I shareholder of and what exactly is this part of ?” ” It is an extracurricular activity, supported from JUNIOR . At JUNIOR, high school students set up their own student company, distribute their products to customers and earn real money. learn what the reality of entrepreneurs looks like – by trying it out for ourselves.” “Super cool! What is your business like?” ” We make products from license plates that aren’t used anymore by their car owners . ”

Allthough my brother already hinted into the direction of circularity by highlighting the concept of “waste to value”, little would I know that they would fully develop a sustainable circular business model over the next months. And little would I know how their small business idea would receive growing attention from different German newsoutlets. And most of all was I joyfully amazed, when I heard that their company and efforts had made it as far as to compete in a Germany wide student entrepreneurship competition.

Now, why am I that enthusiastic about their idea? It fully reflects not just a simple circular business model, but also a business model that is sustainable. So what’s a sustainable circular business model? To me that means that it is needs based.

First of all, many people need a car. Nowadays, a car might be almost as important as food. Something we likely cannot say no to, especially if we live rural and need to go to work. Even if we rented a car a la car-sharing, cars would still be needed. And with each car, a licence plate is needed as well. There is almost no expiration date to a licencse plate, yet each licence plate might have an end to its life such as when a car is not needed anymore.

There are of course many more needs based products. Such an example is clothing with the original aim to serve as protection from environmental hazards. However, many clothes nowadays are promoted in such a way that they do not fullfill this basic need anymore solely, but rather support the buying of new clothes that have little functional value. Let’s think of a pink glitter high heel instead of a boot that keeps our feet safe. In addition, fashion trends frequently change, particular by season and again, this encourages consumers to buy more and more, adding to the pile of sustainability disaster, form a social but also ecological perspective.

What purpose or need are these shoes fullfilling?

This differs to a licence plate, which again is needs based and therefore does not promote consumption of a new license plate to begin with. Because of that it is “sustainable” by origin. Now this product is also circular, because it can be transformed into a new product without having to recycle it. Recycling for instance, is linked to the lowest form of circularity, because a lot of energy is used to take materials apart and to transform them. A license plate on the other hand, can stay as it is , and only needs to be shaped into the desired end-product. “Only” to be used careful, because the students still create everything by hand and it takes quite some time.

What’s my favorite catch on their business model? That’s OMG that they had thought about the concept of “emotional durability” in their business model. Emotional durability bascially means that a consumer of a product feels strongly connected and therefore, wants to keep their product for as long as possible. That’s crucial if we talk about product life-cycle extension. What better product is there, than one made of a license plate of a car, with which the owner has experienced so many adventures and spent so much time with? I can’t think of one.

So you guys, your school, JUNIOR and most of all your amazing business UP3 super rock. You win my special sustainable circular business award 🙂 Interested to learn more about the work? Comment or message me and I will connect you.

Bamboo for urban and peri-urban greening? Of course, but…

Today, I visited one of Bali’s small but beautiful Botanical Gardens and decided to move my eye and camera attention a little bit more up than the ususal straight forward. Doing so was truly amazing, because it allowed me to quickly recognize a beautiful canopy cover formed by various tree and plant species – excluding bamboo.

A little later, I entered an area in which only bamboo was growing. I quickly recognized its beautiful canopy cover, but much more dense.

As I thought about the picture I took of the bamboo canopy, I felt it was too dark as new phone screen background, but it also made me remember how important dense canopy covers are;

  • Forest canopies are hotspots of biological diversity, engines of global biochemical processes, and the dynamic interface between organic nature and the atmosphere.
  • A dense canopy cover will let little light reach the ground and will lower temperatures. The canopy protects the ground from the force of rainfall and makes wind force more moderate -> habitat conditions on the ground are shaped by the degree of canopy cover.

With the monsoon rain starting to hit my face and soaking my clothes on my way back, I wondered about the potential of bamboo on the sides of roads (besides one spot that made me really happy and feel dry!). Would it help me and the many other scooter drives to stay more or less dry? Could it be integrated into urban and peri-urban tropical environments? What benefits would bamboo have? What disadvantages would it have?

Besides the biochemical benefits of general canopy cover listed above, here are a few more benefits of trees in urban settings. These likewise apply to bamboo;

  • Removal of pollutants from the air, soil and water
  • Release of water vapor into the atmosphere which cools the surrounding areas, mitigating the urban heat island effect
  • Interception of rainfall and reduction of storm water runoff (and thus, reducing the costs related to infrastructure required to manage it)
  • Energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to shade provided
  • Carbon sequestration

Having lived in Jakarta for now 5 months and having visited Lombok and Bali, I would truly argue pro! bamboo (and trees). The picture below provides the main argument.

Pros’ for bamboo:

  1. The truly dense canopy cover
  2. Its related ability to provide shade and protect drivers as well as pedestrians from rain
  3. Its flexibility
  4. The immense ability to store water
  5. Its root system – very strong and beneficial in areas prone to earthquake – not as deep as tree root system ,

Con’s for bamboo:

  1. Its “invasive” root system if not protected well
  2. The need for proper management, i.e. removal of degrading poles
  3. Eventually its strong leaf fall.

Conclusively, I would argue that there are various benefits for bamboo. In terms of urban and peri-urban settings, its main benefit relate to its strong leaf cover and ability to store and absorb water. Likewise, the canopy cover may be less in areas with strong underground construction and decreasing flexilbity for bamboo growth. This applies more or less to areas (i.e. cities) with less space.

References

Gobron, N. (2012). Leaf Area Index. FAO. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/3/i0197e/i0197e15.pdf

Nakamura, A., Kitching, R. L., Cao, M., Creedy, T. J., Fayle, T. M., Freiberg, M., … & Malhi, Y. (2017). Forests and their canopies: achievements and horizons in canopy science. Trends in ecology & evolution32(6), 438-451.

Trimble, S. (2019). Forest and Plant Canopy Analysis. CID Bio-Science. Retrieved from: https://cid-inc.com/blog/forest-plant-canopy-analysis-tools-methods/